By Kristy Kibler
Perry Public Beach played host to many things last weekend, including gorgeous weather, cross-dressing actors and a whole lot of Shakespeare—all 37 of his plays, to be exact.
It all went off without a hitch at Shake on the Lake’s inaugural production.
Thursday, July 28 marked the first show, and the menacing grey clouds lurking over Wyoming County that day had Shake on the Lake organizers and audience members alike questioning whether a run to the rain location was necessary. But when show time arrived, the skies cleared as if the Bard himself was pulling strings to help this festival succeed.
The jokes and puns started within minutes, with Chad Bradford taking the stage as a “pre-eminent Shakespearean scholar.” As he introduced their production, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” he lapsed into a passionate soliloquy about the need for Shakespeare in today’s technological age, beseeching the audience to “imagine a world where men can wear striped tights with pride.”
The plays themselves began with “Romeo and Juliet.” The three Shake on the Lake actors all played a variety of parts, but Josh Rice, the festival founder and a Silver Lake native, primarily covered narration. Bradford played a delightfully melodramatic Romeo with relish, and Austin Blunk portrayed a hilarious Juliet. The actors worked their audience well, eliciting chuckles from every age as they lovingly poked fun at one of Shakespeare’s most prized plays.
“Romeo and Juliet” ran about 12 minutes, leaving the audience wondering how all 37 plays would fit into the 90-minute running time. But Shake on the Lake speeded things up from there, sometimes doing no more than mentioning a play in a skit about a different one. They handled all the histories by making them into a football game (complete with play-by-play announcing) and combined all 16 comedies into one song.
It was a whirlwind pace, almost manic at times, and the actors kept up without hesitation. A playful wind caused a few audio snafus, and several passes were missed in the football game portraying the life and times of some of England’s royalty. However, the company never let the minor hiccups take away from their performances.
The production ended with “Hamlet,” one of Shakespeare’s most esteemed plays. It lasted for almost 30 minutes, a length made more noticeable compared to the brevity of some of the other plays. It seemed to drag on just a tad too long, but it was still good fun that included audience participation in the famous “To Dream or Not to Dream” speech, Blunk using Silver Lake itself to act out Ophelia’s drowning and even a super condensed version (“’Hamlet’ without the layers”) performed backwards.
When it was all said and done, audience members gave the company a standing ovation. Phrases like “Pure silliness” and “great fun” could be heard as people made their way to the parking lot, and that about sums up Shake on the Lake—Wyoming County couldn’t have asked for a more relaxed or light-hearted performance. If this was a precursor to future shows, we’re in for a treat.